Hamlet Day - Most Communities
Nattiq Frolics, Kugluktuk
Nunavut Quest Dogsled Race
Toonik Tyme, Iqaluit
Omingmak Frolics, Cambridge Bay
Pakallak Tyme, Rankin Inlet
Spring Fest, Arviat
National Aboriginal Day, Territory-wide
Rockin’ Walrus Arts Festival, Igloolik
JUNE - JULY
Alianait Arts Festival, Iqaluit
Northwest Passage Marathon and Ulatramarathon, Somerset Island
Canada Day festivities, Territory-wide
Nunavut Day, Territory-wide
Kitikmeot Arctic Sports, Cambridge Bay
Inunariit Music Festival, Arviat
Writer: Margo Pfeiff
With a burst of fireworks across the Arctic sky on April 1, 1999, Canada’s newest territory came into being, a vast and spectacular expanse of treeless tundra, glaciers, mountains and ocean that freezes in winter. It is called Nunavut, “our land” in Inuktitut, the language of the native Inuit people who govern the territory and make up 84 percent of the population.
The size of Western Europe, Nunavut is the biggest and least populated of Canada’s provinces and territories, 2,093,190 sq. km (808,185 sq. mi.) covering one-fifth of the country’s total area and reaching almost to the North Pole. With a population that could fit into an average sports stadium, it means there is one statistically solitary person for every 56.72 sq. km (21.9 sq. mi.); Inuit are outnumbered nearly 17 to 1 by caribou.
TRADITIONS LIVE ON
While the capital of Iqaluit is an increasingly modern frontier town with a population of 6,700, the 24 other communities scattered across the territory are much smaller, some home to just a few hundred residents. No roads link the tiny settlements, nor are there roads connecting Nunavut to the rest of Canada.
In the remote hamlets, life is often still lived according to age-old timetables and traditions. Though snowmobiles, boats and guns have largely replaced dogsleds, kayaks and harpoons, many Inuit continue to hunt and fish to support their extended families. Once nomadic, they love to go out “on the land,” camping throughout summer, collecting bird eggs and picking berries. Women wear homemade amauti jackets that keep their babies tucked against their backs.
Drum dancing, throat singing, storytelling, sewing traditional clothes and carving are still practiced throughout Nunavut and locals are happy to share the experiences.
OUT ON THE LAND
While the communities are cultural outposts, most visitors also want to experience the mystical Arctic wilderness with its dramatic scenery and wealth of wildlife. While there are certified local outfitters in most hamlets, it is important to book well in advance as many guides are often hunters and won’t always be available on short notice. Southern-based outfitters offer a variety of adventures from canoeing and hiking to dogsledding and cultural visits with specific fixed dates and using some locals as guides.
An increasingly popular way to explore Canada’s Arctic is via cruise ships that hopscotch along the coast, stopping at several communities where locals welcome guests with performances, feasts and handmade artwork and souvenirs. Often, Inuit elders, artists and cultural experts will travel on-board to enhance the experience.
Temperatures range from +30 °C (86 °F) in summer to -50 °C (-58 °F) in winter when much of the territory lies in almost 24-hour darkness as skies shimmer with the magical colours of the aurora borealis. So most visitors come during the short summers, when pleasantly cool days are lit around the clock by the midnight sun and the tundra comes to life with wildflowers and wildlife and the waters teem with whales, walrus and seals.
A new international airport is expected to be completed in Iqaluit by the end of the year (www.gov.nu.ca/edt/documents/iqaluit-international-airport-project).
In September, for Canada’s 150th birthday, Parks Canada is partnering with Adventure Canada for a 16-day celebratory cruise through the Northwest Passage. This special sailing will stop at four Parks Canada sites in Nunavut, including Qausuittuq, Sirmilik and Auyuittuq, as well as the wreck of HMS Erebus—the first cruise ship to do so (www.adventurecanada.com).
The world’s northernmost heli-skiing operation is being launched out of the community of Clyde River (www.weberarctic.com/expeditions).
Nunavut’s capital of Iqaluit can easily be strolled on foot. Visit the igloo-shaped Anglican church and the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum with its Inuit artefacts, as well as carvings and prints for purchase in the gift shop. The Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre features wildlife and cultural exhibits, while the Nunavut Legislative Building displays temporary art shows alongside their permanent northern art collection including the Legislative Mace carved from a narwhal tusk. Check the Iqaluit Visitors Guide for local events and places to stay, eat and shop.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Nunavut has four national parks—with a fifth in the making—11 territorial parks and special places, four Canadian Heritage Rivers, as well as migratory bird sanctuaries and wildlife reserves. But in reality, untouched Arctic wilderness starts on the doorstep of every hamlet.
From June through September there is hiking, kayaking, whitewater rafting and marine-mammal watching for narwhal, bowhead and beluga whales as well as walrus, seals and polar bears. Many of these activities can be experienced on day trips from communities. Sport fishing for Arctic char, grayling, lake trout or northern pike is popular, with fishing lodges and camps accessible by boat and float planes. In winter, there is ice fishing and travelling across the frozen tundra and sea ice by snowmobile, on cross-country skis and via dogsled. Choose a hamlet hotel base, camp on the tundra with an outfitter, or enjoy the comfort of luxury wilderness lodges (www.nunavuttourism.com).
More adventurous travellers can canoe the Soper River in Katannalik Territorial Park on Southern Baffin Island or the Thelon River on the Barren Lands. Rock climb granite peaks in Auyuittuq National Park, BASE jump from cliffs in Clyde River, or paddle Alexandra Fjord and hike in Quttinirpaaq National Park on Ellesmere Island (www.blackfeather.com).
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
Throughout Nunavut are sites once used by nomadic Inuit. Stone rings marking the locations of skin tents used in summers are commonly spotted. In Qaummaarviit Territorial Park, near Iqaluit, semi-subterranean sod houses used by Thule people between AD 1200 and 1700 can be seen (www.nunavuttourism.com/parks-special-places/territorial-parks/qaummaarviit). There are also many Hudson’s Bay Company trading posts, remnants from the 19th century whaling era and, on Beechey Island, the graves of three men from Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 search for the Northwest Passage. In September 2014, one of Franklin’s ships, the HMS Erebus, was found by a remotely operated underwater vehicle near King William Island and, in September 2016, Franklin’s second ship, the HMS Terror, was discovered off the shores of King William Island. The Northwest Passage can be explored on expedition cruises staffed with artists, academics and Inuit (www.adventurecanada.com).
Carving is common through Nunavut, but Cape Dorset is the epicentre of iconic Inuit sculptures that have been gifted to presidents, popes and royalty (www.dorsetfinearts.com). Their printmaking is also acclaimed, as is that of Pangnirtung (www.uqqurmiut.ca).
MUST SEE, MUST DO
Dogsled or kayak on a day trip out of Iqaluit (www.inukpakoutfitting.ca).
Watch polar bears and walrus emerge from stone, antler and whalebone as carvers work outside their homes in most hamlets.
See colourful northern lights flicker across the sky in fall and winter. Experience Inuit throat singing and drum dancing (www.alianait.ca).
Taste traditional Inuit country food like Arctic char, caribou, muskox and fresh, hot bannock bread.
Take an Arctic safari aboard a snowmobile-drawn Inuit sled from coastal Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay or Igloolik to the floe edge in springtime as wildlife, from whales to polar bears, take part in an open water feeding frenzy (www.blackfeather.com/floe-edge).
Stroll easy paths through a tundra valley to waterfalls and cultural sites at Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park just outside Iqaluit (www.nunavuttourism.com/parks-special-places/territorial-parks/sylvia-grinnell).
Hike the trail up the peak of 200-m (656-ft.) Mount Pelly in Ovayok Territorial Park east of Cambridge Bay for views, wildflowers and archaeological sites (www.nunavuttourism.com/parks-special-places/territorial-parks/ovayok-territorial).
Experienced backpackers can traverse the 97-km (60-mi.) Akshayuk Pass through Auyuittuq National Park, a 10 to 14-day hike amid glaciers, sheer cliffs and river crossings. Travel with an operator or arrange logistics with local boat operators in Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq. The less adventurous can glimpse the pass’ spectacular mountain terrain on a day’s boat ride up the fjord from Pangnirtung to hike to the Arctic Circle (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nu/auyuittuq/index.aspx).
Head to Iqaluit from Ottawa on a family-friendly long weekend between February and October. Flights, hotel and a town tour are included. Activities are seasonal and might include hiking, boating, kayaking, ATV adventures, igloo-building, ice fishing, dogsledding and cross-country skiing (www.arctickingdom.com/getaways/arctic-weekend-getaway/overview). While there, take the kids to play with Canadian purebred Eskimo dog puppies on a two-hour tour (www.inukpakoutfitting.ca).
SIRMILIK NATIONAL PARK
Between the communities of Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay on northern Baffin Island, Sirmilik National Park’s 22,200 sq. km (8,572 sq. mi.) are comprised of three parts: Borden Peninsula is a plateau sliced by broad river valleys; Oliver Sound is a scenic fjord for boating, wilderness hiking and camping; and Bylot Island is a spectacular and rugged island of mountains, valleys, glaciers and seabird colonies. Kayak iceberg-dotted waters, trek to red rock hoodoo spires, spot migratory snow geese at their biggest nesting area and visit ancient archaeological Thule sites. Bylot abuts Lancaster Sound, called the “Serengeti of the Arctic” for its abundance of seals, narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, as well as walrus and polar bears (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/sirmilik).
National Parks and Historic Sites: www.parkscanada.gc.ca 1-888-773-8888